A work of art is a world in itself reflecting senses and emotions of the artist’s world.
The library is cool and smells like carpet cleaner, although all I can see is marble. I sign the Visitor’s Log: Claire Abshire, 11:15 10-26-91 Special Collections. I have never been in the Newberry Library before, and now that I’ve gotten past the dark, foreboding entrance I am excited. I have a sort of Christmas-morning sense of the library as a big box full of beautiful books. The elevator is dimly lit, almost silent. I stop on the third floor and fill out an application for a Reader’s Card, then I go upstairs to Special Collections. My boot heels rap the wooden floor. The room is quiet and crowded, full of solid, heavy tables piled with books and surrounded by readers. Chicago autumn morning light shines through the tall windows….
It’s been said that writing is a form of telepathy. A good writer takes the images in his mind and, through the gift of words, teleports that image into the minds of his readers. The better he is with words, the clearer the image will be. However, a great writer will teleport the experience in his mind into the minds of his readers. A great writer engages all five senses.
I have never been to the Newberry Library before, but after reading the opening of Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife I certainly feel like I have. In fact, I feel like I forgot to return a book to them. Hmm, perhaps in another life. In her opening, Niffenegger engaged all of my senses. I feel like I had the opportunity to slip into someone else’s shoes—no into their body—and take a walk through a library located in a city I have never visited.
Achieving this effect is certainly easier said than done. Some days, I get so caught up in the word count, or in writing “clever” dialog, metaphors and similes that I forget to engage all of my senses. Sometimes I have to stop and close my eyes and just experience my story instead of visualizing it. And then I go back over what I have written and I start to “beef it up.” Like a painter, I start to add layer upon layer, until I am almost convinced that I’m standing before a hulking creature, engaged in a relentless battle. When my character is smacked so hard that he ends up face down in the snow, I too feel stunned. The world is spinning, my jaw hurts from where the creature struck me, and I can taste blood in my mouth. I know I must get back up, but somehow I can’t. Behind me, I can hear his talons scraping the snowy ground—wait a minute—that’s my character, not me.
Phew. That was close. I left my sword and bow in the back of the closet anyway.
So, once again: writing is telepathy. We read to engage in new worlds, to have experiences we could only dream of. We read because we only have this one lifetime, but there is a magic between the cover of a book that can help us defy that.
Don’t be afraid to take us into the depths of your mind, even if it is a scary place from whence we may never return—we may not want to return. That way, even years after we have read your story, we will still remember what the Newberry Library smelled like on that autumn morning in Chicago.